When St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong swung a monumental deal at the end of February to bring in goaltender Ryan Miller, the intention was to accompany a steady defense with a superb goaltender. Judging by the Blues’ 1-0 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday, the net looks to be safe with Miller’s heroics shining through at every turn.
The problem? His defense allowed 31 shots in the contest with many coming off solid opportunities.
This happens in the grand scheme of an NHL season to even the most seasoned of defenses. The high-powered 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, which boasted talented defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall, allowed opposing forwards to mutilate its reputation on occasion. However, this is something that is quickly becoming a trend with the Stanley Cup-hopeful Blues.
Since Miller first donned the Bluenote on March 2, the Blues have suffered 30 shots or more in five of 16 contests (one with Brian Elliott between the pipes against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 23). Although the team has seen a slight decrease in terms of shots against per game since the trade – 26.6 pre-Miller and 25.3 post-Miller – the quality of chances seems to be much higher.
This is not something that cannot be calculated on NHL.com’s statistic generator or dreamed up using advanced stats. The only true way to look at this would be video evidence.
Pre-Miller scoring chances
Nov. 2, 2013 at Tampa Bay
Halak; 4-2 W
Nov. 19, 2013 at Buffalo
Halak; 4-1 W
On the first instance, it was Halak who failed a pass along the boards, allowing the Lightning’s Brett Connolly to sneak in and receive a high-quality scoring chance. The then-Blues goaltender had to scramble to make up for his mistake.
The second video shows that the Blues are actually in pretty good defensive position before the chance. Just before the first shot is taken by Buffalo’s Ville Leino, the Blues are in a defensive triangle while Schwartz rushes back into position. Roman Polak, the defenseman who attempts to block the initial chance, gave Leino little room to register a shot on goal. Halak had to come up big with the save before allowing a rebound to pop out. Even with a solid penalty kill, a goalie still has to be on top of his game. Halak was, thrusting his body over to make a secondary save to keep his team ahead at the time.
Post-Miller scoring chances
March 19, 2014 at Chicago
Miller; 4-0 L
April 1, 2014
Miller; 1-0 W (SO)
The first video displays the third goal of the Blackhawks’ 4-0 drubbing of their Central Division rival. You can see the breakdown in coverage as Chicago entered the zone. Three skaters came in on the two St. Louis defensemen just before the Blackhawks caught the Blues watching the puck. Forward Peter Regin gathered the loose puck, slid it in front of the crease to a waiting Marcus Kruger, who gingerly skated his way past the defense. Miller stretched to attempt a miraculous save but came up short.
Tuesday night likely caused heart problems for the Blues’ coaching staff. All three videos displayed a lack in coverage, inability to keep up with the Flyers forwards and the Blues skaters succumbing to the Flyers’ relentless attack.
The second video, in particular, showcases a lackluster effort in the defensive zone. After Vincent Lecavalier entered the zone, Michael Raffl, the eventual shooter, cruised to the net unscathed. Defenseman Mark Streit faked off Kevin Shattenkirk with a shot, then slid a perfect pass to Raffl across Miller. Carlo Colaiacovo was in no-man’s land, allowing the Flyers’ forward to be uncontested for what was one of the best scoring chances of the night.
This is plainly what I have seen from the Blues in the past month; lackadaisical defensive play and blown assignments seem to be more evident as of late. Luckily, a goalie who is used to this type of play is now employed with the organization. Miller, whose former team allows 34.6 shots against per game (27th in the NHL), has proven time and again that he can rise above any lackluster play from his teammates. It’s not what management had in mind when he was acquired, though.
With just seven games remaining on the schedule, the Blues must rediscover that shut-down magic they possessed during most of the Halak-Elliott era. Imagine that paired with Miller’s sizzling saves in the crease.
That dream is what made Armstrong pull the trigger on acquiring the franchise goaltender.